Dear Mr. Rucker,
Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the Digital Projects Group, five dedicated professionals in the world of digital collections in academia, specifically Baylor University in Waco, Texas. You probably don’t know who we are, but we know you’re familiar with Baylor: you and your buddies in Hootie and the Blowfish played a huge concert here in 2005, as evidenced by this photo and article from our campus newspaper, the Baylor Lariat:
But we’re not writing today to relive the glory days of Waco’s early 2000s music scene. Our goal is to pique your interest in our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, about which we’ve written extensively on this blog, and you may have seen featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and in various publications across the country. It’s even going to be a part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open on the National Mall in 2016.
The reason we see this as something that might be of interest actually harkens back to a bonus track featured on the Blowfishes’ seminal 1994 album Cracked Rear View. Tucked away at the end is a beautiful a cappella rendition of the traditional Negro spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. We know YOU know what that sounded like, but for our readers who may not have experienced it yet, here’s a version from YouTube.
It’s impossible to say just how much emotion, history and tradition are embodied in that 54-second clip. According to Wikipedia, this particular song dates back to as late as the 1870s, with an early documented version showing up in 1899. It has particular resonance for African Americans given its ties to the destructive era of slavery in our country, but it also holds universal appeal to anyone who’s felt alone, lost and without a destination beyond the hoped-for “home” beyond this earthly life.
Our Black Gospel Music Restoration Project contains a dozen different versions of this song performed by artists ranging from Willa Dorsey to the Singing Stars of Louisburg, North Carolina (a short five-hour drive up the road from your native Charleston, South Carolina, as the map below indicates).
Of all the versions of that song to be found in the BGMRP, we are partial to the one recorded by the Malcom Dobbs Singers ca. 1963 for their album Great Spirituals. It is spare – only vocals, a timpano and an ethereal organ – but it contains a world of emotion, and it builds to a satisfying payoff of grandness tinged with sorrow. Take a listen below.
(Copyright RCA Camden, all rights reserved. See the full item in our Digital Collection for more information.)
Whichever version you prefer, it’s obvious to us that you felt a connection to this song, and we wanted to take a moment to point out its prominence in a collection we are very proud of. We hope you’re able to discover a new version you hadn’t heard before, and we hope our collection helps further your love of American gospel music.
We’re certainly not asking for anything on your part – you can consider this a publicly available version of an FYI – but if you were to, say, offer to come back to Waco and grace us with a concert of your favorite gospel-inspired songs, we certainly wouldn’t be opposed to that. (But seriously, if you want to talk, drop us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Best wishes on a successful tour of the UK!
Your friends in the Baylor University Digital Projects Group
This post is part of a series of Open Letters to musicians, authors and others that we hope will connect our collections to prominent people in America. If you have someone to suggest, or if you’re the subject of this post and want to drop us a line, send us an email (email@example.com).
For more information on Darius Rucker’s music, including available discs, upcoming shows and info on his latest release of Christmas music called Home for the Holidays, visit his website.